Passion Projects: Yuval Ofir activates art with Yo Miami

Yuval Ofir has Miami in his blood. A Miami native, Ofir took up the family business and he now serves as the third-generation co-owner of Paris Perfumes, Inc. in Wynwood. But, he’s also carving out his own Miami legacy, beyond the business, out into the neighborhood, and now at the heart of Miami’s art scene with YO Miami, a go-to guide for artists and art events that now has its own artist space and a big vision for the future of local art.

How did you get started in Wynwood?

I have been working at a company my grandfather started in 1979 since I was about 15 or 16. I started doing deliveries and working in the warehouse. My grandfather asked me then if i was interested in continuing the family business, Paris Perfumes, Inc., and I said yes. I went to UM and I was still working there two or three days a week. I got my degree, but most of my business school was working hands-on with my grandfather.

That experience played a big part in me starting YO Miami. I got a great learning experience in terms of the business world and networking. Once I started meeting artists here, it helped to drive me to do something more concrete with the connections I was making.

The warehouse is on 29th and 5th, in the heart of Wynwood, so I was in the neighborhood even before Wynwood started developing. I ended up moving to [Edgewater] after I graduated in 2009, right when everything in the area started exploding.

How were you inspired to start YO Miami?

Honestly, YO Miami really just started out of a little bit of laziness, maybe. The fact that the perfume company was in Wynwood and I moved closer to it, that’s when I went out and started meeting artists at the venues. I met my wife tail end of 2010, and she is an artist. She’s a teacher to pay the bills, but she was exhibiting art in Wynwood. I ended up lining up show for her before I even started the Facebook page officially in early 2011.

When I moved to the area, I had friends in the Gables and up in Fort Lauderdale and Broward. People really didn’t know about the spots down here, and I didn’t want to be driving up to Fort Lauderdale, because it wasn’t the scene I was looking for. So I started trying to bring friends down to me. I got tired of texting people a few nights a week, so I started posting everything cool that was happening on the Facebook page.

When I started meeting artists, I told them about the page, and it sort of snowballed. When it hit more than 200 followers, I realized there were people following it that I didn’t know personally, so I started working on it in a more professional way.

How has YO Miami grown?

Because I do have my responsibilities with my family and the business that come first, I have to put YO Miami in the backseat, but I can do a lot of it on the side and my downtime. That’s impacted rate of growth of YO Miami, but it’s still been pretty substantial.

In the past year or so, I’ve been trying to formalize the things I do. Because it came out of my passion, at first I was trying to take every opportunity that came our way without anyone getting paid or anything official. It’s definitely gotten more — not formal, not structured — but it’s become more of a business and less of a side project.

There are some events that I have been running for three years, and then there are new things that we’re doing monthly and annually. It’s been organic growth. and I’m focusing more on things that get artists get more concrete opportunities to show their work and to get paid instead of just hanging out.

What has surprised you about building YO Miami?

The initial idea of actually being involved in the scene and in things much bigger than me was tough for me to wrap my head around. It’s not so much of a surprise now, and I see it as a privilege at this point.

The support of the artists has been great. They see that i am trying to do things in their best interests too, to connect them with companies and people who can support their work, and that I’m really excited about.

What are the next steps for YO Miami?

I’m starting a permanent collection this year of local artists. I had this idea that there are lot of types of collections in Miami that are privately held, but publicly available. They’re all focused on regions that make up Miami — like Latin America, and the Caribbean — but there’s no real collection focused specifically on Miami art. I think part of that is because the scene is still young.

So, I want to start that, and I’m starting from my own personal collection. I started buying pieces in 2010, and I’m pretty sure that one of my wife’s pieces was one of the first purchases I made.

I’ve been doing inventory for the collection, and I’m at a little upwards of 45 pieces and over 30 are originals. Some of the kind of standout pieces that I have are a couple from Alex Yanes that I really love that were some of the earliest stuff I bought.

One is the welcome sign for the space. I gave Alex a bunch of odds and ends, and Alex put them together to make the welcome piece for the space. I have a piece from Kazilla that was one of the earliest I bought too. It was one of the first things she painted in the style that she is known for now. The pieces I have are often kind of these transitional pieces form when an artist has finding their voice and they’re moving into what becomes their artistic style.

We’re going to have our fourth anniversary in May. I’ll have the first show curated specifically for the collection with support of artist community. A lot of the artists were willing to donate their work for this, and I got a very positive response for these artists who were really excited to get on board.

In May, we’ll have the first exhibition of pieces specifically procured for the collection. The majority of collection will be on permanent display at the space. It’s open two days a week to public, but as we grow, I’m hoping we can open more days.

I’ll also be working with other venues to have traveling exhibition to bring the work to other areas of city and also to some galleries like in New York City and Los Angeles. The idea to me is kind of for it to be, not a time capsule, but sort of an evolutionary chart of art in Miami.

And how are you identifying pieces and artists for the collection?

There’s not a real definition of what Miami art is, but to me, it’s artists who have developed their craft in Miami, and who use it in the city to benefit the community. While there will probably be a heavier mix of street art, there also will be fine artists and sculptors. The criteria for me is: Has the artist had an impact on the art community in Miami?


So how do your business and YO Miami work together now?

What I have found is that I’m trying more and more to synergize the two, even if they’re not directly related. There is an overlap, because both fragrance and art are kind of luxuries. We carry this brand, Caron, it’s an over 100-year-old French brand. For Art Week, we commissioned a French artist, Ramzi Adek, to do mural for this great, classic French brand at our warehouse, and it was amazing. It got a lot of press, and we got a call from the brand that they loved it.

It’s showing me that everything can really benefit from art and thats YO Miami’s focus. Whether you’re an office, in real estate, run a store, any business can benefit from that injection of creativity. That’s the space I see that YO Miami can create in the community now — a link between the business world and the art world. Those two worlds don’t always necessarily see eye-to-eye. I really enjoy kind of translating between businesses and the artists to help make sure that every endeavor is more successful and happens in the smoothest way possible. The goal is that everybody is happy and the city is more beautiful.